Cannabis legalization literally at our doorstep – with Chris McGrath – Episode 8

GBC’s vice president of student success, Chris McGrath speaks about the legalization of cannabis 

In this episode about the Cannabis legalization, I talked to Chris McGrath, George Brown’s vice president student success on how the college will face and adapt to this new reality. So, put your headphones on to know which side of the street you should be next time you light a cigarette.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Hello and welcome to the Dialog’s podcast, my name is Luiz Felipe Lamussi, I’m your host for this season. And today we are going to talk about the cannabis legalization and how George Brown is dealing with this new reality. That’s why I talked with Chris McGrath, he is the George Brown vice president student success.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: First of all thank you Chris for receiving me today. We will talk about the Cannabis legalization today and a lot of things have been changing with this new Ontario Government and now they just changed another thing. People will be allowed to smoke anywhere where they can smoke cigarettes. Of course, GBC is now free smoking place, is a private place, we don’t need to worry about that in campus. But it is a reality that people are going to the sidewalk to smoke. So probably they will do that with Cannabis. How GBC will face this issue? We are trying to protect, trying to make this place a free smoking environment but there are these consequences now.

Chris McGrath: It’s an interesting question and I think we have to look at within the context we are geographically. Early this weekend I was in a meeting with my colleagues who are VP of student success and Students Affairs from the other colleges in the province. And each college in Ontario has a different geographically landscape. So what is considered to be on campus and off campus differs across the province. In some ways, we are advantageously positioned because we are very heavily urban college. So all of our campuses are situated within the cities’ core. And we don’t have extra property that extends beyond our buildings. If we look at the smoking free legislation as well as the smoke-free policy GBC is a smoke-free campus. And the legislation also provides that you can’t smoke within 9 meters of any entrance and exit of a building. But if you took out your measuring tape on any of our entrances and exits and measure 9 meters we would technically be on city property. So, while there is a nuance in that, we have public space literally out of our doorstep. So if someone chooses to smoke tobacco or cannabis they can do that technically on municipal property. But that also means they will be within our 9 meters range. It boils down to a balanced approach in how we monitor and how we regulate those spaces. The decision that was made to go smoke-free a lot of the receptacle were removed for ashtrays. And Casa Loma, here (at St. James) less so and Waterfront less so, but we’ve seen a lot of cigarettes buds just been left on the ground. And I think that’s also part of a social change that takes a little bit of time for people to understand that they have to go across the street. We have increased public safety and security presence on our campuses to make sure that students and employers and visitors are aware of this smoke-free policy. And they are been politely asked to move to other spots. Even coming here this morning there were some people smoking by the door and I said: ” Good morning, I don’t know if you know this but you can’t actually smoke there.” So, if you guys take a little of steps that way or go across the street, would be great.”

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Just to make clear to our listeners, George Brown College doesn’t have yet a Cannabis policy but has some guidelines. And one of the guidelines and I will quote here “George Brown College prohibits the possession, use, consumption, manufacturing, sale or distribution of illicit drugs on College property. ” Of course cannabis won’t be illegal anymore. However, vaping cannabis is not legal yet. So how George Brown will face this issue and I’m asking that for two main reasons: firstly a lot of students are vaping…

Chris McGrath: Yes! It’s becoming an increasing health concern.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Yes! Totally! And secondly, we have a lot of international students that will not read the law. So they will think that if they can smoke cannabis they can do it anyway. What do you think about that?

Chris McGrath: So, first of all, our substances use guideline and our smoke-free policy really interplay with each other. Our smoke-free policy doesn’t allow burning, vaping or vaporizing in anyway whatsoever. That policy takes care of whether do you wanna vape anything. That policy is clear. Now part of what we went to a standpoint of guidelines when it comes to cannabis is because the legislation is evolving and changing. And if we have a policy, that would be our firms stands but it’s hard to establish firm stands on something when the terms are changing. So, as I look at our guidelines as they relate to cannabis, and vaping and edibles are not yet considerate in the legislation. As the legislation evolves we will consider it and update our guidelines. Guidelines are a rolling document. And our new revision is not in response to cannabis but actually in response the fact that public safety and security at GBC now is equipped with the Naloxone Kits, which are available in case of an event that someone is suffering an overdose from an opioid for example. That’s a substance issue. And your second question was about international students and George Brown has a responsibility to make sure we educated our students and they understand what the community standards are. What it means to be a member of this community. It’s not only about the law, but what are the rules of the college and also other common civil ways of being a student. It’s not just about handing a student one point at a time a folder or pamphlet about cannabis. It has to be a rolling conversation.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Yes, a deep talk. And it’s good that you brought this because I’m an international student, I’m from Brazil which is a totally different reality when we are talking about substance use and the cannabis legalization. It’s illegal there. And actually, I saw something at my university back there. Two students were smoking cannabis on campus, at the University of Sao Paulo, someone called the police and like ten, fifteen police cars came. TV went there too. I know it is illegal therefore it’s wrong. But the way they dealt with this issue it was totally different.

Chris McGrath: Sounds like far more extreme…

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Yes! And I’m from this reality and a lot of the students are from realities similar to mine, so it’s good George Brown College make it clear how it’s going to approach this issue.

Chris McGrath: Yeah! And it’s interesting that you give that example because I never thought about it in that way necessarily. In terms of we need to make sure that international students understand what the rules are but we also have to situate those rules in an understating for them about what may look like if they violet these rules. Because as I said this morning, it’s a polite conversation with someone standing at the door to me to say ” Can you just move across the street?” Ten police cars didn’t arrive neither a helicopter. It wasn’t this sort of significant intervention of the law. It was a conversation that solves the issue. So that’s for me is about making sure students understand what are our communities norms are around been civil and respectful to each other. So that people aren’t necessarily afraid but that they understand that there is also a social context around cannabis. There is also a social context about alcohol. And I think over time, as the legalization of cannabis progress and evolves, the public understanding and social acceptance will also going to evolve.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Yes because tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol they are not… They are different but they are substance that we need to always focus on be worried about how people will approach them and use them.

Chris Mcgrath: And that’s our bigger concern. We acknowledge the legislation on alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis as if you are 19 years or older you can use it. And that’s a legal decision and an adult decision that we have to respect. But we have a responsibility as George Brown as making sure you understand what are the consequences and potential risks associated with those choices. How can we educate people so they make informed choices about choosing to use a substance or alcohol or tobacco. And also understand the prolonged use and how this may impact their ability to participate either as a student or as an employee of the college. So, the Cannabis conversation is an interesting one and again that’s why we did guidelines because there is so much to it. It’s complex…

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: We need to think through before we define the final rules.

Chris McGrath: Sometimes we need to live through a little bit. So if we discuss this a senior team, it’s almost we need to give ourselves a little bit of time to think about how this new reality is going to play out at George Brown College. Then we can develop some policy and work in a different space. Guidelines give us more flexibility. And it helps us to work within the context of people’s experience.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Okay, thank you so much for the talk, it was great!

Chris McGrath: My pleasure! Just great to meet you.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: And that’s all for today folks. Please don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast in your podcast app or the Itunes app. If you are an IOS user or Android user… I don’t care. Just subscribe to our podcast. And if you have any feedback, any comments, anything please hit me up at podcast@dialognews.ca That’s all for today, see you next time, bye!

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Cannabis legalization literally at our doorstep – with Chris McGrath – Episode 8